The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity celebrates originality and ingenuity for those working in creative communications and advertising. Every June, the festival takes over the waterfront district of Cannes, France. It’s the largest worldwide gathering of advertising professionals, designers, innovators and marketers and provides an opportunity for participants to party, network and discuss the future of the industry. It’s the Oscars of advertising.
This year’s festival handed Lions to a variety of campaigns, from the quirky to the downright bizarre, that engaged audiences and fulfilled the most desired goal of today’s big brands; to go viral. Tomb Raider hurled rain, sleet and snow at eight contestants on a billboard in downtown London; in response to nauseating Black Friday trends, REI closed its doors and halted online sales on America’s biggest shopping day; Airbnb and the Art Institute of Chicago built a livable model of Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom;” House of Cards hijacked the GOP national debate and it’s 24 million viewers with a clever Frank Underwood campaign spot; and Volvo gave the reigns of a 45 ton truck to a four-year-old.
All the above campaigns share three factors: they are unique, expensive and difficult to measure the success of. In each circumstance and according to each brand, the campaigns exploded on social media making them inarguably awareness effective. But did they drive purchases? Yes and no. While Tomb Raider undersold its predecessor, Airbnb booked out its Van Gogh replica room and the Art Institute of Chicago’s ticket sales rose 250%. It’s worth mentioning that the campaigns honored at Cannes represent the cream of the crop in terms of creative marketing. I’d imagine for the handful that went viral and took home hardware, there are many more campaigns with hefty price tags that floundered on social media and didn’t receive an invite to any award shows.
Beyond acting as lunchtime YouTube diversions, what do these campaigns tell us about the current state of marketing? Creativity plays (and therefore, pays). Whether it’s big budget conceptualizations or the skilled optimization of keywords and audience segments, agencies and brands are most successful when they empower audiences by thinking outside the box. Advertisers without the demand or budget for exaggerated marketing campaigns will benefit from taking a creative approach across the board, from the planning stages to finding their audience smarter.